Yes, writing and editing are real jobs, and they deserve real compensation

This post is in response to some requests I’ve received recently from friends and acquaintances, requests that I’m sure to receive again. What happens is this: I get a Facebook message or email—usually from someone I haven’t spoken with in years and with whom I was never very close—asking if I will perform some editing and/or writing work. Usually, after exchanging a few messages, in which I ask about the project, it becomes clear that I am being asked to do this work for free. The one time I was offered any type of payment up front it was in the form of “I’ll buy you lunch at this beloved but very cheap local restaurant,” which I interpreted as, “In payment for the work you will do for me, I will take you out on a date.”

I always turn these requests down—politely at first, as I tend to operate under the assumption that these people honestly don’t realize how rude they are being—but if the person persists, I stop caring so much about being nice in favor of caring about being valued as a working professional in a very legitimate career field.

For those of you who don’t know, I freelance these services. I have worked freelance or contract projects on web design, writing, developmental editing, copyediting, and consulting. The lowest amount I ever charged was $15/hour for web design work while I was still a student (and even then I short changed myself fairly severely). Now I primarily write and edit for freelance work. I charge between $40 and $65 per hour for this work.

If you have never worked as a freelance writer or editor, or if you have never hired a freelance writer or editor at a fair wage, these prices may seems exorbitantly high. They aren’t. I actually tend to charge on the low- to mid-end of industry standard rates (www.writersmarket.com/assets/pdf/How_Much_Should_I_Charge.pdf). I have never had any professional client balk at these rates. In fact, the rate I pitch is usually accepted right away, without any type of negotiation, which tells me that I still could (and maybe should) make more.

So why I am able to make this much freelancing? The short answer is because the work I do has real value. If these clients could do it themselves—if you could do it yourself—you wouldn’t need me. But you do. And if I am going to be performing professional-grade work for you, I deserve to make a professional-grade rate. My work has value, and you need to recognize that. The fact that we once knew each other ten years ago, or the fact that we’re Facebook friends, or the fact that we have a mutual friend—none of these things warrant a discount. They certainly don’t earn you free work.

Sometimes people respond to me by saying they just want me to look over the work quickly. “It shouldn’t take long,” they say (I even had one person tell me I couldn’t possibly be busy enough to not have time). There are two main problems with this idea. First is the fact I stated above—if these people could do it themselves, they wouldn’t need me. Since they do need me, that means my skill has value and merits some type of compensation. Second, I am a professional, and that means I will never just “glance” over something. If it needs work, I will give it that work. If there is pay and a contract involved (and a deadline, or a budget), I will, of course, prioritize and may even leave some things alone, but in this scenario there is a clear agreement and there are clear expectation for and from both sides. When you ask me to edit for free or for an unreasonable rate, there is nothing that protects me—you are the only one who can benefit. In this case, my professional integrity hurts me.

There are, however, exceptions to every rule, I suppose. I do work for my immediate family without charging sometimes, and, when I do charge, I usually give them a reduced rate. Close friends fall under the same deal. I’ll do shorter projects for free (this is a time when I will accept food or drink as payment—but that’s because they’re people I hang out with already), and again offer lower rates for larger work. I give discounts to extended family and close acquaintances as well, depending on our relationship and the type of work they want done. I never charge my students. If they are asking for something unreasonable, I will simply refuse to do it. I will, however, read personal statements, resumes, cover letters, etc., for my students. I do this happily. I consider it a part of my job as a professor, even though it is beyond the classroom. I had many wonderful mentors and I want to give the same thing to my students.

Finally, there is one group of people for whom I will provide nearly any type of editing service without charging. This group consists of my grad school friends, writer friends, and close colleagues. I will work for free for these people at any time because they do the same for me in return. These are all people I trust to provide solid feedback on my own work and who, in turn, trust me to do the same for them. We don’t keep track of who does what, and we don’t keep score—instead, we help each other succeed. (And then we thank them profusely when we do.)

So, in conclusion, if you are not one of the people listed in the two preceding paragraphs and you want me to write or edit for you, I will do so happily—but I will have you sign a contract, and you will pay me a fair wage.

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